Humans are social creatures. We thrive by helping each other grow.

Nearly everything you accomplish is a result of the people you spend time with. From sharing information about new opportunities to playing an influential role in your personal development, your network – every person you know – is there supporting you along the way.

This is why building relationships is such an important skill. Every person you meet is a vault containing a wealth of insight, knowledge and experiences. As you get to know people, you get to share that wealth and use it to make your own life richer and more successful.

Having a large, diverse network is critical to success. But, how do you build one?

This month we chose Never Eat Alone as our Science of People book club book to learn networking strategies from Keith Ferrazzi, a management consultant and one of the most well-connected people in the business world.  

Here are ten action-packed tips from the book that you can use to expand your network and build stronger, more valuable relationships.

#1: Create Your Relationship Action Plan

When you want to achieve something, what’s the first piece of advice you hear? Let me guess… You need to set clear goals and create plans to achieve them. Nothing new, right?

However, have you sat down and planned your networking efforts?

Ferrazzi says that a fatal mistake people make is failing to realize that building a strong network is just like any other goal. You need an action plan that outlines who you want to build connections with and how you plan on doing it.

Here’s how to make your relationship action plan:

1) Make two lists. The first one will be people you’ve met and you want to strengthen your relationship with them. Examples include colleagues, cool people you’ve met at events and other acquaintances. The second list will be people you want to meet. For example, leaders at work, members of a community you want to be involved in, etc.

2) Create an action plan. Take each list and decide on actions you’re going to take to meet or strengthen your relationship with each person. As you do this, strategize the best ways to connect with each individual. For example, if you’re meeting for the first time, focus on making a great first impression. Or, if you already know the person, find ways to talk to them more often.

Update your relationship action plan regularly as you foster connections and develop new goals. The more intentional you are in your networking efforts, the faster you’ll build relationships.

Keep reading for tips on how to put your plan into action.

#2 Be Interesting

Once you have your relationship action plan and you’re pumped about the great relationships you’re going to build, the question becomes: How do you be someone who other people want to connect with?

The simple answer? Be interesting!

Think about it, who would you rather talk to: the person who always looks bored or grumpy or are you attracted to the person who is lively and has a wide variety of interests?

Obviously, you’d want talk to the second person! A key to networking is being the type of person that other people want to interact with. To do that, you need to project positivity and be able to have engaging conversations.

Afraid you’re too boring? Start keeping up with current events and have a couple of fun stories on hand so you’re always equipped with fascinating ideas to share in conversations.

#3 Make People Feel Special

Think about the last time someone told you they appreciated your efforts or that they admired you. It felt great didn’t it? You probably walked away from the conversation with a smile on your face and you looked forward to seeing that person again.

One of the mistakes many people make with networking is trying to get others interested in themselves. We’ve all seen it happen. You meet someone new and they immediately start talking about their lives and how great they are. Their goal is to show that they are a valuable connection but instead they come across as self-centered and annoying.

A more effective strategy is to focus your attention on the person you’re trying to connect with. People want to feel like they matter, and to do that you need to show them that you genuinely care about what they have to say and express how much you appreciate them.

Do this to make the people you talk to feel special:    

  • Maintain steady eye contact so they know your attention is focused on them.
  • Ask follow-up questions to show that you’re interested in what they have to say.
  • Mirror people’s emotions. If they’re excited, create stronger connection by sharing their excitement.

Most important: Never forget to show your appreciation. It’s one of the easiest ways to make someone’s day and leave a positive impression.

#4 Help Others

“Can I help you?” Asking this question is one of the most effective ways to build long-lasting connections. Once you help someone, you instantly become more likable because you relieved some of their stress and added value to their life. Just like showing your appreciation, offering to help is a strategy that will earn you a positive reputation because you’re focusing on other people and not yourself.

“The more people you help, the more help you’ll have and the more help you’ll have helping others.” –Never Eat Alone

How you help people doesn’t have to be difficult. All you need to do is offer your knowledge and/or your time – a small price to pay to gain a new relationship, especially with influential people who often need the most help.

#5 Join New Social Circles

Have you ever wondered how the most creative, intelligent, caring and otherwise incredible people all seem to know each other? It’s like they’re in some club that seems impossible to enter, leaving you wishing you could join, but you don’t know how.

If you struggle to connect with groups of people outside of your current circle of friends, you’re probably over-thinking your approach. Whether they’re thirteen or thirty-five, people tend to stay among their close peers. If you can find a way to meet one person in group you want to be involved in, you can start connecting with everyone in it.

Ferrazzi calls the first people you connect with in a group ‘anchor tenants’ and the principle is if you earn their respect, then you instantly gain credibility with the anchor tenant’s friends. Not only is this a great strategy to meet people outside of your social circle, it also saves you time. Rather than trying to connect with an entire group of individuals, you can focus on one or two key people and get to know the rest later.

#6 Become a Master Mentor/Mentee

Mentorships are one of the most valuable relationships you can invest in. There’s no better way to get ahead and expand your network than to spend time with people who have already achieved your goals.

“A successful mentoring relationship needs equal parts utility and emotion.” –Never Eat Alone

Though the goal of mentorship is to drive measureable progress, it’s not just about sharing advice and results. The best mentors genuinely care about their mentees and are personally invested in their careers.

Mentorships are often seen as a one-sided relationship. However, great mentors gain just as much value from their mentees. Benefits include:  

  • Mentees are often your most loyal acquaintances. Once they become successful, you can count on them to return the favor in form of knowledge, connections or other assistance in the future.
  • They offer fresh perspectives. Younger mentees in particular can help you keep up to date with the latest trends.
  • You discover new ways to solve problems by helping them overcome obstacles in their careers.

#7 Be a Super Connector

You know those people who seem to know everyone? They’re known as super connectors because they’re the superheroes of the networking world. If they’re unable to help someone, they know a list of people who can, which makes them great friends to have.

While you may not have the expansive contact list of a super connector yet, you can add similar value to your network by spending a little bit of time each week connecting people who should know each other in two easy steps:

  1. Keep up-to-date with what the people in your network need and what their strengths are.
  2. Introduce people whose needs match another person’s strengths. For example, connect your acquaintance who wants to transition into a marketing career with a marketing professional that you know.

This is a winning strategy for everyone involved because the people you connect benefit from knowing each other and both feel grateful towards you for bringing them together.

#8 Have a Social Media Strategy

What have you been posting on social media lately? You might not give your tweets a second thought but, for your acquaintances you don’t see everyday, social media is how they stay connected to you.

The key to fostering your network using social media is to always add value. Instead of randomly posting whatever comes to mind  – because, be honest, a lot of those posts aren’t interesting to anyone but you – or rarely posting at all, consistently share relevant, funny and informative content that offers a glimpse into your life and the ideas you’re interested in.

#9 Diversify Your Network

Though building close relationships is essential for a happy, successful life, research shows you actually get more career-related value from acquaintances you see only occasionally.

How is that possible? In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell writes that “The more acquaintances you have, the more powerful you are.” Unlike your close friends and colleagues, your acquaintances thrive in a different social universe than you do. The result is that they know about jobs and networking opportunities that no one else in your inner circle does. In fact, 83% of people who find their jobs through a current contact do so through people they see only occasionally, if at all.

So, those Facebook friends you haven’t spoken too in a while… it might be time to check in again. Who knows what valuable information they may have to offer?

#10 Don’t Forget the Follow-Up

You could master every other piece of advice in Never Eat Alone but if you don’t follow-up, you will fail at networking. People are busy and if you don’t connect with them often, you’ll be forgotten.

Within twenty-four to forty-eight hours of meeting someone new, send a brief email reminding them who you are and what you talked about. Doing so establishes your connection with them and opens up a line of communication so you can send them messages in the future.

After that, Ferrazzi recommends following up once every quarter with acquaintances and at least once per month with people you’re trying to build a closer relationship with.

Here are some quick follow-up ideas:

  •     Pass on relevant articles that add value and potentially spark a conversation.
  •     Wish people a happy birthday.
  •     Inform people about opportunities they may be interested in.

Well there you have it! Ten action-packed tips to help you grow your network and build stronger relationships.

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